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Arizona rallies to survive scare against Eastern Washington

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Washington at Arizona Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no such thing as a bad win in pandemic basketball, particularly when your opponent wasn’t on the schedule a few days ago.

The Arizona Wildcats rallied from down eight points in the second half, outscoring Eastern Washington 22-11 over the final 8:30 to win 70-67 on Saturday afternoon at McKale Center.

Playing for the first time in eight days, the Wildcats (2-0) trailed 56-48 before hitting seven of their next 11 shots after starting the second half 4 of 19 from the field. Terrell Brown Jr.’s floater with 4:40 left gave the UA the lead for good at 61-60, while freshman Dalen Terry secured the win in the final seconds with a steal and two free throws.

James Akinjo led the UA with 15 points, but that came on 6-of-16 shooting, while freshman Azuolas Tubelis had 13 points and nine rebounds off the bench and senior Ira Lee added seven points and eight boards in his first action following a preseason concussion.

Tubelis and Lee’s production was huge considering Jordan Brown, who had 19 points and 15 rebounds in the opener against Grambling State, managed just six points and three rebounds in 18 minutes while fouling out.

Eastern Washington, which replaced Northern Colorado on the schedule just a few days ago, led 43-38 at the half thanks to an offensive onslaught over the final eight minutes before the break. The Eagles made 10 of their last 12 shots, including seven in a row from 3-point range, after starting 6 of 17.

But like it did in the first half, the Eagles were ice cold from the field to start the second half, missing their first nine shots and going scoreless for the first four minutes. Arizona was able to take a 47-45 with 14:20 left on a Jemarl Baker Jr. layup, but then Eastern Washington went on an 11-1 run as the Wildcats eight straight shots.

EWU led 56-48 on a 3-pointer by Casson Rouse before Akinjo had two shots to get Arizona within 56-53 with 6:57 to go.

Jordan Brown picked up his fifth foul with 6:26 left on an over-the-back, and EWU made two free throws off that foul to lead by five. The Eagles would only make four more baskets after that as Arizona’s defense clamped down.

EWU was 7 of 28 from the field in the second half after making 19 of 29 first-half shots. Arizona was only 11 of 32 in the second half, shooting 41.5 percent from the game, but converted 16 EWU turnovers into 20 points.

Arizona led 22-14 with nine minutes left in the first half before the Eagles started hitting their shots, draining seven in a row to get within 34-33 with 3:43 to go. EWU took its first lead at 35-34 on a pair of Tanner Groves free throws, then scored the final five points of the first half as Arizona had only four points over the final 4:38.

The UA returns to action—or is scheduled to—Monday night at home against NAU, the second game of a four-in-eight-days stretch that began Saturday.